Wednesday, 21 December 2011

No More Christ in Christmas

A regular part of Christmas for someone involved in or observing the worldwide secular movement is the inevitable accusations of a "war on Christmas" and the Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays debate that rages in the United States.

In brief: some members of American churches object when people in stores wish them "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," or if a government post says this instead. Keep Christ in Christmas is the rallying call.

The secularist response varies, but is usually along the lines of "Specifically saying Christmas excludes non-Christians" Here are a few posts about the so-called "war on Christmas" over at Hemant Mehta's Friendly Atheist Blog

Now this brings me to the main topic of today's rant. In Britain this whole debate is much more muted. Most of the people I've spoken to find the American season's greeting "Happy Holidays" somewhat mawkish and saccharine. In Britain almost everyone will say "Merry Christmas."

As I said in the preamble, this tends to be frowned upon by American secularists as it excludes not only atheists and agnostics but also Jewish people, Muslims, Hindus... in fact anyone who is not a Christian. It doesn't seem like an identical situation in Britain.

I would argue that, to a certain extent, Christmas in Britain has become a secularised festival, the newest incarnation of the Solstice celebrations. Anyone who has a basic understanding of the history of Christmas knows that it began long before Christianity was founded. The midwinter rituals of inviting the sun back now that it's got too cold consistently regenerate into new forms. Christmas is now a cultural festival of family, friends, good food, booze and in Britain, not an exclusively Christian affair. It can be enjoyed by everyone who wants to.

In Britain, Christ is no longer the focus of Christmas. I'm coming to the conclusion that the word has shifted enough that it now belongs to everyone instead of just the members of faith.

At least for the rationalists among us there is no more Christ in Christmas.

That's the end of the main body of the rant. I have some less coherent musings below...

Regarding the Happy Holiday/Merry Christmas distinction, I have a theory as to why our two countries use the different terms.

In Britain the word Holiday seems to be much more frequently used. While U.S. schools have Spring and Summer breaks, we have Easter and Summer holidays. From the little I see of American Culture (via Films, TV and a little interaction with my Yankee (A term of affection) family) 'holiday' specifically seems to refer to the winter school break and the associated festivals.
This could probably be tied to the fact that the U.S. has the Establishment Clause, while Britain is legally a Christian country... I'd love other opinions...


Merry Christmas

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Damn Your Christian Values, Mr. Cameron

So, this week our 'Glorious Leader' David Cameron made some rather bold statements (quoted here in the Telegraph and the Guardian) about the role of church and Christianity's place in our country. Interestingly he claimed that "the church must shape our values," and that "Christian values were central to Britain and they should be 'treasured'"

Oh, really? Which exclusively Christian values is he referring to?

The big things, like prohibitions against those who murder, lie, and steal had to have evolved before the Judeo-Christian myth was written, they are required for society to form; how could a society of individuals successfully interact with each other in a dangerous environment, as our ancient ancestors did, without being able to trust one another not to turn on each other?

Every society on Earth (and even some groups of animals) has adopted the same basic morality, independently of the twelve tribes of Israel. The nuances then grow as cultures and religions develop but morality came before religion, not the other way around.

The culture of Europe - and consequently Britain - had the teachings of the Catholic Church for the best part of eleven hundred years, from when Emperor Constantine converted the Roman Empire to Christianity to when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church and Martin Luther pinned his note to the door.

During this time (most commonly known as 'The Dark Ages') the Bible was heavily influential in the politics of the European world. Biblical rulings like the right to own slaves, wives and daughters were property to be bartered for control of greater interests in business or politics and the persecution of those different from the norm, as dictated by the Holy Orders. These are Christian Values, just as much as Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself and Turning the Other Cheek. Atheists are often accused of cherry-picking from the Bible to make it look bad; Christians do exactly the same in the opposite direction. Jesus himself advocated hating family in Luke 14:26 and it's amazing how rarely that particular value isn't lauded by the Politicos.

Modern values actually have little to do with a Christian background and owe more to the Enlightenment; the Age of Reason. As reason became more frequently used as a tool for discovery things began to change into what we would consider modern morality. The fact that the Enlightenment happened in Europe is not a greatly significant notifier, it could have happened anywhere; it almost happened earlier in the Islamic countries of the Middle East, but was quelled by a sudden uprising of religious fundamentalism. Almost ironically, this sudden burst of insularity from the Muslim nations allowed the European Enlightenment to begin when the libraries left behind by the Islamic rulers of Spain were discovered.

Whenever the values were altered: freedom of slaves, equality of women, equality of different races and currently equality of different sexualities are the most notable, the churches were always a little late and often fought against the changes for several years until they bowed to the Zeitgeist. We can observe this happening today with the Christian opposition to gay rights, which mainly cites Leviticus. Just quickly contrast Leviticus 18:22, which is the most common argument against gay marriage and rights, with Leviticus 11. You never get many Christians adamantly insisting that Pork and Shellfish shouldn't be eaten, do you?

Cameron also claimed that the Bible supported the emancipation of women. Has he never read First Timothy Chapter 2? Here are some choice quotes:
11Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

12But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

15Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing...

So emancipation of women is basically an inferior position to men in all things, keep quiet bitch and get pregnant if you want a chance of seeing heaven. You can cherry-pick the Bible to tell whatever story you want, but it really invalidates the claim that it is a book of truth if you have to ignore specific parts of it to justify your point of view.

I could go on and on, but too much Bible bores most people, and most Christians even more so. The simple fact is that the values that Cameron is putting such an emphasis on are largely innate to all cultures or developed from the resistance to Christian rule. The only fair way to run a society is secular, religion has no place in politics. It's bad enough that we have a dozen bishops in the House of Lords for no reason other than that they are bishops in the Church of England.

Damn your Christian Values, Mr. Cameron. They are ancient, obsolete and unnecessary.

All Bible quotes are from the King James Version, which is to what Cameron referred.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Come out and see me, make me smile.

Do you have any idea what it's like to wake up every morning and just feel slightly wrong? Like one little thing is out of place in your head?

I often end up doing this. Some times it's not as bad as others, some times it's worse. But the fact remains that every time I look in a mirror there's a balding, bearded man looking back at me. While I was a teenager growing up I thought that my dislike of the changes I was going through was just because I didn't want to have to grow up and have to take responsibility for myself and, to a certain extent, that was true. I don't like being responsible, but I'm capable of doing it when I need to however distasteful I find it.

When I was around 19 I discovered a webcomic called El Goonish Shive, which featured transgender antics from several of the main characters, especially focussed at first on Ellen, who was a female clone of the original main character Elliot. I joined in the forum-based community the comic had where someone had set up a free-form role-play game inspired by Ellen's creation wherein everyone played a gender-swapped version of themselves. Suddenly things slotted into place. I wasn't just stressed about growing up, I was stressing about growing up male.

I knew I wasn't gay; I have no sexual interest in men. I tried to persuade myself that I was bisexual when I was 17, simply because I believed it was a better way to live but proved that, at least for me, sexuality is not a choice, despite what right-wingers say. So my conclusion was, logically, that I must be a transgender lesbian. It took me a while and I think I must have been around 21 when I finally came to this conclusion for definite.

So now in the morning I wake up, look in the mirror and I feel slightly wrong. I present as a straight male (I even have an Evil Goatee©), mainly because no matter what I try, it's never good enough for me. If I'm completely clean shaven my jaw structure and skin are a little feminine, but instead of comforting me this makes it worse. It highlights the things that are wrong: balding hairline, heavy shoulders, huge hands and feet. There are times I've considered seeing about Hormone Therapy, but I do want to have at least one genetic child in my life, and I'm worried about potentially making myself sterile, and I'd still run up against the wall of it not being enough. I am a bit of an all-or-nothing person.

I've never told my parents about this. My brother thinks it's just one of my silly little obsessions. Most of my friends at uni know about it, I have a tendency to blather on about everything about me as a defence mechanism. But for people who didn't know, I'm coming out. I have to thank things like The Godless Bitches and Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook, along with much love to my friends Fortiquest and Entorien, and my fiancée, without whom I wouldn't have had this courage. I'm a member of the LGBT community. I'm L and T. I know, inside, that what I look like, what my genetics and hormones made me, isn't right.

I am still the same person as I was before; my personality is quite 'masculine;'* I love me some video games, I'm argumentative and bickery, I'm completely obsessed with how things work and how life, the universe and everything are put together.† It's just that I wish I looked more or less like Jessica Rabbit.

Jessica Rabbit in Jeans! With a spiky bass!

I'm not bad... I'm just drawn that way

*At least by cultural definitions of masculine, which fails like most stereotypes do in the end

†I don't know all the answers, but 42 has to be in there somewhere

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Beginning my Atheist Blogging...

Earlier this year I began reading Hemant Mehta's The Friendly Atheist. From there I also found myself reading Libby Anne's Love, Joy, Feminism and JT Eberhard's What Would JT Do?. I've also been watching Thunderf00t, zomgitscriss and AronRa's Youtube channels for a couple of years now.

What is the point of all this preamble? Well, it's partially a thank you to those people and the others who post, blog, write, vlog and every other verb you can think of about atheism. The other reason is that, while reading or watching all of these I want to join in with them.

It's a nerve-racking goal really. A lot of the people I read or watch came from a deeply religious background and turned their back on it as they learned more about the world. I'm not like that. I was raised without religion and I live in a country where being an atheist really isn't anything to comment on so I really don't have the same struggle to impart. I just want to show solidarity and to be able to speak about these topics from time to time.

At some point in the future I will post a brief biography of myself, but until then I bid you welcome. Here begins my first Rant.


I suffer from depression. It's tough, but manageable. I'm not currently on medication, but I am in therapy and we are currently discussing whether medication might help me. Sometimes, when the depression swing hits me badly I create spectacle, because the attention does help me feel better about it. I am aware of the silliness and I have been trying to curb the degree to which I do this. Most of the time these days I content myself with a post on a particular famous social network and then I manage to muscle through by talking to some close friends, so I am improving.

The other day I posted a comment which said:
Needs some frucking happy pills. Maybe they'll be able to shake this malaise...

to which my Aunt made some pithy comments, regarding spelling, and I bantered back and forth with her for a bit. This was all well and good, and I don't have any real complaint about it. What I do have a complaint about is her last comment:
Though I suppose I could go all religeous on you and tell you what you really need! Goodnight!

Which frustrated me beyond belief. First of all, after starting the conversation commenting on spelling (the word she thought I'd misspelled was actually spelled correctly anyway) she then went on to misspell 'religious.' Secondly, and much more importantly, was the assumption that the reason I was feeling depressed was because I don't have faith (she knows that I am an atheist, she's a fairly devout Church of England attendee)

If all I needed to stop myself feeling down and depressed was to find Jesus or some-such, then surely a logical extension of that is that absolutely no religious people suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Oh, wait...

The other issue here is the automatic assumption that it's okay to randomly proselytise to me. We have had discussions about this before; she genuinely thinks that my parents did me a disservice by not taking me to church, that they didn't let me make up my own mind. As I will go into in a later post that is definitely not the case. But if I tried to say to her
The reason this thing isn't going right for you is because you're wasting time praying for it instead of making it happen
I'd instantly be guilty of "disrespect." Well, I am sorry Auntie, dear. That argument only comes from the fact that in our society Christianity is privileged unfairly and assumed to be superior to not having faith.

Here endeth the Rant. I hope to see you again shortly!